Written by Dan Gillespie Sells & Tom Macrae
From the Original Idea by Jonathan Butterall
Directed by Matt Ryan
Billing itself as a musical for today, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie lives up to its proclamations, centring its narrative on an authentic bedrock of diversity, inclusivity and fabulousness. And yet, while this certainly is the future of musical theatre, there’s something vintage about the production. Hints of Priscilla, gleams of Billy Elliot and of course, all the razzamatazz of the drink stained, nicotine rich bars of Soho – it’s a comforting production, which burns as a fresh creation but welcomes like an old friend.
Drag is an old friend, and for some of these queens – a very old one. A consumption culture of binge streaming, rising alongside a broad openness means that while there may not necessarily be an additional drag, there is certainly a more visual culture and accessibility for mainstream audiences. Inspired by the life of Jamie Campbell, who was denied a place at prom after voicing the intention of wearing a dress. With music from Dan Gillespie Sells and lyrics courtesy of Tom MacRae, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tackles the musical theatre behemoth with the story of little lad who wants to wear big heels. It’s a heartfelt progressive production, which vitally is fun, engaging and has staying power with its composition.
So, to start with – Layton Williams is magnanimously talented, natural and a killer in those heels. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will not work without a focal point, a Jamie, a Mimi Me, and focus nabbing is Williams’ gift. Tight choreography, with an impressive vocal range, Williams’ strength lies is with his ability to merge these talents into a bundle of energy, while also delivering a solid acting performance. This is a role which could easily be hammy, foolish or too extravagant and Williams is certainly capturing the extravaganza of the role but makes it inherently human.
What helps strengthen this authentic performance, is the chemistry Layton shares with two stellar women; Shobna Gulati and Amy Ellen Richardson, who play Ray and Jamie’s mother Margaret. As Gulati provides comedic relief, a fun-loving free spirit, it is Ellen Richardson’s nuances which bridge into the audience, particularly the parents. To have the genuine reactions, to support Jamie’s decisions, to proactively adore her son for who he is, but still demonstrate that even the most liberal, supportive loved ones can have a limit to their acceptance, is a brave, honest take. Her vocals propel He’s My Boy into the pantheon of ballads which dominate musical theatre, a timeless song in the making. There is, of course, one more leading lady who has pride of place in the spotlight.
Now, being frank, Shane Ritchie makes a far superior Hugo than he does Loco Chanelle, and this is evidently down to Ritchie’s lack of experience in physical drag. No stranger to the craft, far from it, Ritchie has the character of Loco, but his body doesn’t personify her attitude. The result doesn’t weaken the role or the mentoring effect, but it weights our appreciation towards Hugo, rather than an even footing with Loco. Hugo is engaging, playful, but has a core of iron where required, playing the character spectacularly, he just fails to give as much oomph to Loco. Ritchie’s experience with country vocals means that iconic numbers Over the Top and The Legend of Loco Chanelle offer a unique dynamic to the touring production.
On top of this, can we just have a moment of appreciation for the delectable stars Garry Lee, JP Mccue and Rhys Taylor who take on the marvellous parts of drag queens Sandra Bollock, Laika virgin and Tray Sophisticay.
It isn’t all friendly, a narrative centring around an openly gay boy’s desire to perform drag, still at high school, invites the antagonism of ignorance. Opting for realism, our adversaries are threefold, though remarkably treated with a fair sense of dignity. Lara Denning’s Miss Hedge, careers advisor and Headmistress at Jamie’s school isn’t an obnoxious villain, she’s a stressed teacher who simply has concerns. Her concerns are voiced tactlessly, and she certainly isn’t winning teaching awards, but Denning carries weight to the part, fleshing out Hedge’s place in the narrative.
Wasted is George Sampson’s bully Dean, who only moves into a third dimension after a crowd-pleasing dressing down by Sharan Phull’s Pritti Pasha, for the most part, misusing his movement talents outside of crowd numbers. Finally, Cameron Johnson is the nameless father of Jamie, also the resident director, his place within Jamie’s story is, well, to not have a place. Fleeting, bigotted and dismissive of Jamie’s brilliance, Johnson’s minimal role speaks volumes of the world’s concerns.
If one actively sits and ponders the production, ripples will highlight an occasional issue, but these are superficial. At the crux of the matter, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is, unsurprisingly, on the lips of the Westend, the world and right here in the heart of Scotland. It’s the progressive future of big-budget theatre, throwing open the doors for any audience and reminding us that you just have to strap on the heels, take the bins out, and be your best self.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie runs at The Festival theatre until March 7th. Tickets availble from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/everybodys-talking-about-jamie
Photos by Johan Perrson